Laser modules installed on Airborne Laser prototype aircraft

Air Borne Laser project Image: Lockheed Martin

February 29, 2008 In another milestone for the US Missile Defense Agency’s Airborne Laser project, the six laser modules that comprise the core of the system have been successfully installed by Northrop Grumman.

The $1.1 Billion ABL project is directed at testing airborne laser battle management and beam control/fire control systems in order to destroy airborne missiles. Three private companies are contracted to the project: the Boeing Company, ABL's prime contractor, provides the modified 747-400F ABL aircraft along with the battle management system and leads overall systems integration and testing; Northrop Grumman supplies the missile-killing high-energy laser, as well as the beacon illuminator laser which is used to measure atmospheric conditions between the aircraft and the target; Lockheed Martin provides the beam control/fire control system, which incorporates the beacon illuminator laser and ABL's other illuminator, the track illuminator laser, which tracks hostile ballistic missiles.

The Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser (COIL), the ABL’s high-energy laser, links together the six laser modules to achieve megawatt-class power, which will be used to detect, track, and destroy hostile ballistic missiles.

"Completion of laser module installation means that the overall integration of the megawatt-class laser onto the prototype ABL aircraft is more than 70% percent complete after about five months of activity," said Alexis Livanos, Northrop Grumman corporate vice president and president of the company's Space Technology sector. He noted that the COIL took three years to initially assemble and activate in the Systems Integration Laboratory (SIL) at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

High-power ground tests of the ABL are scheduled to begin later this year, with flight-testing scheduled for early 2009. The ABL will be capable of destroying a ballistic missile during its boost phase, while it is still climbing in the Earth’s atmosphere and before it can deploy its warheads – all at the speed of light.

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